Honey Badger Trusts Instincts & Escapes Dakhla!

Africa, Dakhla Challenge, Portugal, Western Sahara — By on July 5, 2012 4:13 AM


“I miss my girlfriend, I miss my dog … I want to go home.” James said with a loud sigh of exhaustion. While I had only known him for the two weeks we spent crossing Morocco off-road together, I had never known him to look so defeated. He had proven himself to be strong and determined, a man who conquered a challenge with a big smile on his face.

“Oh no! What happened in No Man’s Land?” I asked, sensing there had been trouble and fighting the urge to give James a big hug.

“You can’t make these things up Kelly, you just can’t make them up.” he said shaking his head.

He had been up since 6am and had driven Maverick with Dora in tow 300km south to the Mauritania border with Dora’s owners (Steve and Dougie) and the man who bought Maverick. Their mission at the border was to transfer the car ownership of Maverick, and to sell a dead Dora’s parts in “No Man’s Land,” where guys wait with wads of cash eager to buy whatever you have to sell.

As a foreigner entering Morocco in a car, you will receive a stamp in your passport noting this to ensure that you do not leave the country without your car. If you do not wish to drive home with your car or onward through Africa, the other option is to sell your car. A feat we would all learn, is much easier said than done. A foreigner would be charge a hefty import tax when selling a car within Morocco. To avoid this, people sell their cars in “No Man’s Land” the narrow stripe of land between Western Sahara and Mauritania that belongs to neither country. You would then drive across the Mauritania border where a customs official would remove the car stamp from your passport as you have exited Morocco with your car. The seller can then return to Morocco having had the stamp successfully removed and fly home without trouble. Seems easy enough in theory, but we would come to learn from James and others that the entire process was “shady, unnerving, stressful, dangerous, and just not worth the trouble.”

One of the 2WD teams chose instead to abandon their car attempted to fly home with the car stamp still in their passport. They were detained at the Marrakesh airport and their car was impounded cost of 5Euro per day. They were eventually let out of the country on a promise they would return to sell the car later and pay the impound fine. I suspect these guys will not be visiting Morocco again.

If you recall, the Dakhla Challenge is an off-road adventure across Morocco for the thrill of the ride with the option to sell their clunker at the end and donate a portion of the proceeds to charity. An ex-pat couple, we shall call them Carla and Keith, reside in Dakhla and volunteered to help coordinate a closed bid auction of the vehicles prior to our arrival in Dakhla. In exchange, they hoped we might donate some of the money to the local charities; however, they insisted the money must funnel through their hands. A fact we would all find unsettling the more time we spent in Dakhla.

Prior to arriving in Dakhla, Carla had been very helpful providing the teams with useful information and tips for the drive down. She greeted Tom and I upon our arrival in Dakhla city. She suggested we have a beer to celebrate our completing the challenge; however, she seemed to have forgotten her wallet at home. She then took us to her partner Keith’s “workshop” seemingly a storage shed containing a huge assortment of tools, parts, and camping gear. She suggested that we “lighten our load” by leaving in the shed everything inside our car that we no longer needed. She assured us that she would sell everything we contributed and the money would go to charity. Tom and I didn’t feel the need to lighten our load just yet and found her insistence to do so suspicious. We would later learn that one of the other participants left a backpack in the warehouse, only to later spot Carla wearing it on her back at the beach.

Tom and I were very interested in James’ experience, as we were destined for the same path. We had been told that morning, that Honey Badger had received a bid of 2200 Euro in the silent auction. We had to ask the couple on several occasions how much the car sold for, as Carla claimed she did not remember but assured us it was a good price. Carla and Keith were not forthcoming about the buyer and both Tom and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off with the whole situation. They were vague with the details; only saying the buyer was a nice guy who would let us keep Honey Badger during our stay in Dakhla, suggesting we wait to drive to the border until the end of our visit. Tom and I explained that we wanted to sell Honey Badger ASAP so we could just relax and enjoy our kitesurfing holiday. We suspect that it was Carla and Keith were the bidders on Honey Badger given Carla’s questions and interest in the 4Runner.

James had also been told that his car sold for 2200 Euro; however, in the end he only received 800 Euro and was told by the buyer that the rest of the money was given to Carla and Keith to go toward charity. When James called Keith to inquire about this he was told “this was always part of the deal.” In no way was this ever part of any deal as far as any of us knew. Our understanding was that each seller would receive ALL proceeds from the car sell and could then choose whether or not to donate and the amount was up to them. And even more troubling was the fact that no one had actually seen the Technical Institute or Orphanage for which our money was supposedly going to be donated.

We told James about passing uncle Bazza on the road and his decision not to sell his car Piglet at the border. James thought Bazza had made a wise decision.

“Don’t go down there guys, don’t do it, it’s just not worth it. Remember the Ceuta border crossing, well it is ten times shadier down there!”

He told us of the chaos in No Man’s Land, and the many guys that stand waiting at the border with wads of Euro in their hands grabbing, and haggling you to sell whatever you have. “They would even buy the shirt off your back,” he said.

Tom and I agreed it would have been better to have gone to the border with the guys we knew and sell the car on our own without the help of the couple; however, everyone from the rally had since left town and James was soon to fly home himself. We were soon to be alone in Dakhla, a thought that sent a chill down my spine. At least the UN was there with us!

The thought of Tom and I selling Honey Badger in “No Man’s Land” and then boarding a local bus with 2000 Euro in our pockets didn’t seem like the smartest move. We had liked the idea of giving back to the local community by donating the car proceeds to charity; however with the authenticity of the charity and the uncertainty of where the money really would end up in question, left us uninspired.

And then there were the landmines to consider. It is well known there is an abundance of landmines along the disputed border. We were told we should be fine so long as we stay on the marked path.

Skirt is all for taking risks, and driving to the border to sell a car in No Man’s Land surely would be a risk, but for what reward I wondered? We didn’t really care about the money, as we had never expected to profit from the experience. We were in Dakhla to kitesurf as much as possible, and the thought of driving 300km to have to spend a day haggling over the selling price of Honey Badger and potentially getting ripped off and or robbed really didn’t seem like a fun adventure. We had also heard that we might be forced to stay in Mauritania for three days before we would be allowed back into Western Sahara, unless we were willing to pay a bribe to the border police.

In addition, there was lots of confusion and unrest in Dakhla regarding the Moroccan King’s impending first visit to the area, he was due to arrive during our stay. Dakhla is in Western Sahara, the last disputed colony in Africa. The king claims the land to Morocco; however, the Polisario Front (the representative of the Sahrawi people who live there) claim their country’s independence.

When the hotel receptionist informed us on the second morning of our stay that we would have to leave the hotel because the King was visiting and would need all of the hotel rooms in Dakhla city for his security staff, we were somewhat alarmed. We moved 30km north to a tent in a Bedouin camp just across from the pretty lagoon in which we kitesurfed. We immediately felt better about being away from Dakhla city, a place I am not sure why one would choose to visit. There was a lot of buzz about the king’s visit, and people wondered if there would again be riots.

Our intention to have a relaxing time kitesurfing in the large flat lagoon was replaced by anxiety and uncertainty. We couldn’t shake the feeling that something was just not right about the entire situation and our pending dealings at the border left us feeling stressed.

I reached out to a friend who did mission work in Mauritania, hopeful he might could put in touch with someone we could trust to help us sell the car at the border. I was grateful for his quick response and efforts to connect us with a local to help us, unfortunately the timing did not work out in our favor.

One night as we lay inside our comfy tent under candlelight, we discussed our options. Tom decided that in no way would he allow me to go with him to the border, as he had enough to worry about besides my safety. So the options were…

1. Tom drives to No Man’s Land to sell Honey Badger

2. We drive Honey Badger back to Switzerland together

I thought of Skirt’s motto in traveling …

TAKE RISKS, TRUST INSTINCTS, EMBRACE THE UNEXPECTED

But what should I do if one of the three conflict with the other two?

Our gut told us it wasn’t worth the risk to drive to the border. We decided to trust our instincts, which told us to get out of Dakhla. We embraced the unexpected by making our long journey as fun as possible and chose to take a route home through Portugal, a country neither of us had yet to visit with a windy coastline. It was disappointing to have to leave five days earlier than planned, (meaning five less days of kitesurfing), to allow for the time it would take us to drive back to Switzerland in time for Tom to return to work. But then we figured if we couldn’t kite in Dakhla, we would find other windy beaches to kite elsewhere on our way home.

We didn’t tell Carla and Keith our plan to leave as we honestly worried that they would be angry and perhaps use their connections with the police to detain us at one of the thirty police checkpoints we had to pass through on our way out of Western Sahara.

As we headed north, I watched the beautiful blue lagoon disappear from my side mirror. I could hardly believe we had to drive back. I had mixed emotions and was less than thrilled about driving 5000 km again. Tom tried to make me look on the bright side, suggesting that now I can buy that pretty large tajine I wanted that would not have been able to fly home with. He remembered where in the medina in Marrakesh it was and promised to take me there.

“You know, I think it would have broke my heart to sell Honey Badger.” Tom said with a smile. We agreed he had been a very good ride and during our long drive home, we pondered where Honey Badger should take us next. Perhaps he has another rally or two left in him …

********

I would like to note that I thoroughly enjoyed the Dakhla Challenge, it was an absolutely amazing adventure and would highly recommend this rally to anyone interested in exploring Morocco off-road. When I participated, this was the first time the rally had ended in Dakhla so in a way we were the guinea pigs. The organizer has taken our feedback and made changes to the process of selling cars in Dakhla. The characters mentioned in this post are portrayed trough my experience and personal opinions and therefore should not be taken as fact. My advice would be to go as a large group to the border and sell your car on your own in “No Man’s Land” and deliver money to the charity of your choosing if you so desire. Also, you must always be flexible and embrace the unexpected as this is not an organized rally and your “plans” will undoubtedly change! If you are interested in participating check out the official DAKHLA CHALLENGE HOMEPAGE.

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4 Comments

  1. Kristin says:

    Hey Kell,

    I think you did the absolute right thing by getting the heck out of there – that couple was SHADY! the whole thing was shady! There’s good risks and bad risks and you were smart to trust your instincts and avoid the latter.

    Also, noticed in your disclaimer that you wrote what happened to you were “opinions” and not facts. They actually are facts as this experience actually happened to you and the couple actually said those words to you and there was little proof of a charity.

  2. Kelly says:

    True, true friend, this is indeed a nonfiction piece! Thanks for your support! X

  3. Dasha says:

    Great job on the post! I know you were unsure about it.

  4. Uncle Bazza says:

    Well said my lovely American friend!
    Although James & I were “outta there” when you were in Dakhla, I do hope our remote support to you and Tom helped you make the correct decision to also high tail it back to Europe.
    Having said this, others mustn’t be put off but MUST experience the Morocco and Sahara Occidental (AKA Western Sahara) region of W Africa in all its raw beauty.
    Uncle Bazza
    Hampshire Hogs Team
    2012 Dakhla Challenge participants

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